Vermont State Police classify Taser death as “medical” homicide

The Vermont State Police issued a press release at 5:53 p.m. Friday indicating that the death of a man who was tased by a police officer in June has been classified as a homicide by medical officials.

Macadam Mason, 39, died outside his home in Thetford after Senior Trooper David Shaffer shot him in the chest with a stun gun on June 20.

Mason had an epileptic seizure the day before and had called Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center on the 20th because he feared he would harm himself. The hospital called the Vermont State Police and officers arrived on the scene shortly afterward.

According state police, the New Hampshire office of the Chief Medical Examiner says the cause of Mason’s death is a “sudden cardiac death due to a conducted electrical weapon discharge.” The examiner cites other significant medical conditions including heart disease and “excited delirium syndrome.”

The police say the death has been classified as a “medical” homicide, not a legal one.

Mason’s family has been advised of the findings.

The autopsy report will not be released to the public by the Vermont State Police because it is part of a criminal investigation and exempt from inspection.

The state police say the autopsy will be submitted to the Vermont Attorney General’s Office and Orange County State’s Attorney’s Office for independent reviews. It will also be examined by the State Police Advisory Commission “to help determine if a change in state police policy is warranted.”

The Vermont State Police were first equipped with Tasers in 2011.

After Mason’s death, mental health advocates and the ACLU-VT called for a moratorium on police Taser use.

Allen Gilbert, ACLU-VT executive director, said police must accept that a Taser is a deadly weapon and that it should only be used when deadly force is justified. Policies, he said, should be changed to reflect this fact.

“It’s hard to see how deadly force was justified against Macadam Mason, an upset, infirm individual who had called emergency personnel for help. State officials must now begin the difficult work of determining whether a trooper should be charged with a crime for shooting Mason.”

Theresa Davidonis, Mason’s girlfriend, filed a lawsuit against Shaffer and the Vermont State Police on July 24.

VTDigger.org received a tip around 10 a.m. on Thursday that spelled out the details of the information released by the New Hampshire Medical Examiner’s Office.

We contacted state police right away, but were told at 5 p.m. on Thursday that they had not received the death certificate from New Hampshire. We received another email at 10:25 a.m. on Friday that the state police were working with their criminal division to figure out what could be released but did not indicate they had any new information.

Friday night’s release from the state police confirms all the facts presented by the tip, but it’s unclear whether the death certificate or any other documents have been filed. The Vermont State Police are the only officials who appear to have access to the information.

Though the press release says Mason had a heart condition, in an interview on Thursday, Davidonis said her boyfriend had a very strong heart.

“His heart was never an issue even when he was in an active seizure,” Davidonis said.

Reporters Taylor Dobbs and Andrew Stein contributed reporting to this story.

Anne Galloway

Comments

  1. Tom Karov :

    As RR would have said, “Here We Go Again”

    The police use of “Records exempt from inspection (ongoing criminal investagation)..No surprise here..

    An issue within an issue. They need to be “Up front” for once, but that probably will not be the case, given the past history of “tansparency” with regard to the AGs office and the state police. The AG will, no doubt find that “The Officer was (justified) and acted (within the Law) etc. And business as useual with the continued use of Tasers.

    What a sorry state if affairs.

  2. “Excited delirium syndrome” is a bogus condition Taser Intl’s paid researchers have invented. It is not recognized by any medical text.

    Many MEs have caved to TI’s pressure to attribute a death by Taser to this “syndrome.” See my article on Mason in Seven Days.

    VTDigger: Please investigate this further.

  3. Christian Noll :

    Boy its a good thing we have the police “Investigating” themselves.

    I feel so much safer knowing my tax dollars are going towards trigger happy taser weilding idiots.

    Homicide is Homicide and if the medical staff who called the police in the first place knew of the danger they were putting Macadam in, they may (or may not) have reconsidered calling them in the first place.

    Does this really sound like the police knew how to handle this situation? I mean why bother with the taser? Why not just draw your real weapon?

    I can just imagine the bull that the police are deficating themselves with to try and justify their action.

    We need a moratorium and temporary ban on Tasers. The horror stories on private citizens using Tasers to mug people at ball games and rob senior citizens are starting to grow.

    I think Vermont State Trooper David Shaffer should be subjected to a 30 second blast in the chest with a taser.

    I think he should speak at a memorial service for Macadam Mason so that he can express his lack of empathy and describe how he would have done nothing different if approached by the same situation in the future.

    Vote for a Temporary ban on Tasers and re-evaluate the police training on them.

    Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center think of someone else (better qualified) to call rather than the police. Do a better job please. You’re here to protect and heal us, not put us in harm’s way.

  4. Paula Schramm :

    We need a moratorium on the use of tasers in Vermont. This is hardly the first time a taser has been used inappropriately in this state. This story makes me feel sick to my stomach. Mason called emergency personnel for HELP, not to be attacked.

  5. I am still waiting for the elected politicians and police to stand up and say they’re going to help protect us from police brutality.

    • Bruce Post :

      Right on, Rama!

      About three years ago, while I was on the Essex Selectboard, our police chief asked the board to authorize tasers. He and the officer accompanying him were reasonable in their presentations. A local resident who is a physician also testified from a medical perspective, describing the dangers of tasers and recommending against providing them to our police. Based on a comment our chief made, I had the feeling that they wanted the tasers because other squads had them. The board entertained the issue for a few minutes (“deliberated” would be too strong a word) and then voted 4-1 to approve acquiring the weapons.

      Several months later, two members of the board running for reelection appeared on a Channel 17 candidate forum. Their campaign literature had described their accomplishments and traits; one trait was “courage.” When asked by a caller to identify an example of their courage, one of the incumbents cited his vote in favor of tasers. Sigh!!

    • Christian Noll :

      Rama, how true, but I feel we’re going to be waiting a long time.

      As Bruce suggests, our citizens just kind of “Dumb up” to the police. They use the “Post 9/11″ battle cry to justify the complete destruction of our constitutional rights.

      As if they; (the police) are here to save us from some kind of percieved threat.

      I don’t feel safe with our current police nor Attorney General protecting their gross and flagrant misconduct. It is unequivically, a complete and bellacose abuse of the power we tax payers entrust them with.

      They have this romantic image of themselves as serving our community when in fact they are failing misserably. Its sad, our country is changing.

      More and more often, the number one security threat to so many peaceful, law abiding tax payers, is the police.

      Its time for a moratorium and temporary ban on Tasers.

  6. David Black :

    If he was pepper sprayed bludgeoned or shot would their still be an investigation?

    • Paula Schramm :

      “If he was pepper sprayed bludgeoned or shot would their still be an investigation?”

      If the result was death, I would hope so !

  7. Randy Koch :

    Does “medical” homicide mean it was ok for the cop to kill the man? Or does the cop get in trouble, get fired, go to jail? Do the cops just continue merrily using this horrible “non-lethal” weapon or is enough enough?

    It seems clear how the cops want to spin this: after all, how much is the life of a marginal guy worth compared with a trooper’s career? In an election year, will the AG have the guts to stand up to the cops?

    • Christian Noll :

      Right on Randy.

      Well said.

      Nothing will happen to Vt Trooper David Shaffer for killing Macadam Mason. You watch.

      In the eyes of the police, it was a job well done. “Threat eliminated” for them. They actually feel this is their job. This is how we train them at the police academy in Pittsford, Vt.

      The career of the law enforcement officer is, as you asked, far more important than the life of such a “marginal guy.”

      In the eyes of the police, they’ve responded appropriately.

  8. Fred Woogmaster :

    Police power, authority and the ability to use ‘lethal force’ derives from the people of Vermont through its statutes, policies and procedures. The granting of authority without commensurate accountability is indeed a slippery slope. I have come to believe that every jurisdiction that has a lethal weapon carrying police force should have its own citizen review panel “looking at” incidents that involve death or serious injury as a result of weapon use either by or to police. That panel would serve the citizenry. Our present system serves our professionals more than it does our citizenry. It does provide the semblance of accountability – but not really.
    What would the harm be in creating stronger citizen review? I now support a a time limited moratorium on taser use in Vermont in the absence of authentic citizen review.

  9. Charles Samsonow :

    We need a ban on law – and law enforcement –
    We need to have guns ourselves and protect ourselves. Look at the scumbag James Deegan – already out of jail – if that was any one else outside of law enforcement they would of seen 5 years mandatory- especially if a blue collar worker stole that kind of money from law enforcement. That tells me other people in management in law enforcement also pad there time sheets – they are all scumbags and need to throw themselves in prison – to protect us hard working citizens. James is also a felon and I bet he never got rid of his guns and will always have one – I even doubt he went to prison – they probably sent him in hiding out of state so no – one can see – that he never went to prison at all. There is nothing more criminal then a – legal – crook.
    I’m talking only about us hard working honest blue collar workers – not you criminals both in front and behind the badge.
    Thanks for your time and space.
    C

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